Annoyances in London
London's annoyances are pretty standard to all major cities worldwide. Avoid them if you can!
Begging is widespread in London. You'll come across people asking for money in many parts of the city, and although some of them are genuinely needy, there are also 'professional' beggars making an excellent living from the constant stream of small change. I've come across several reports online and in the papers that claim that beggars in lucrative spots can make £200+ per day. Not a bad income!
Those begging in London are generally passive and non-threatening, however they can occasionally be intimidating and even aggressive when, having been given 50p or whatever, they demand more. To my mind, this is damn rude. If they ask for more, then walk away.
Many Londoners, and indeed the London Metropolitan Police, advise that you don't
give to beggars, but rather buy the Big Issue Magazine
(see also boxed text below) or consider giving a donation to an established homeless charity such as Crisis
So should you give to beggars? I can't answer that for you I'm afraid - it's completely up to you. Personally, if I see someone who I especially feel for - or if my children see someone who they want to help - then yes, I do give. But if I feel at all uncomfortable or intimidated, then no way!
Remember, you are under no obligation to give anyone anything. And if someone is making you feel uncomfortable, I would say that's as good a reason as any not
Watch out for people approaching you with a 'hard luck story' - see Scams in London
Beggars sometimes position themselves next to ATM bank machines. If this makes you uncomfortable (and yes, it certainly makes me feel uncomfortable), then simply find another ATM - there's usually another around the corner - or use a machine inside the bank.
Piccadilly Line tube trains between Heathrow airport and central London seem to be a particular favourite for 'professional' beggars. Often they'll give a little speech, or briefly play an instrument (badly), then walk slowly down the carriage asking for money. Simply ignore them, don't make eye contact and hold on to your bag!
The Big Issue
The Big Issue is a professionally produced current affairs and general interest magazine that is sold on the streets by a network of homeless and vulnerably housed people. A fine example of 'helping people to help themselves'.
The magazine currently coasts £2 (vendors purchase it for £1 and make £1 profit). Each seller has a 'pitch' and you'll find them all around London. Stop for a quick chat if you have time - the sellers are nearly all nice people, often with something interesting to say. Be aware though that there are sometimes problems with 'fake' sellers. Make sure the seller you buy from has a genuine-looking photo ID (they are required to have it openly on view) rather than a photocopied one, or none at all.
I regularly buy The Big Issue - sometimes more than one copy of the same issue, from different sellers - and I always find something of interest in it.
Sadly Brits don't always hold their beer too well, and there are often drunks around in the evenings, especially around 'closing time' (after 11pm). In particular, stations and public transport can be a bit 'lively' late in the evenings. These drunks tend to be loud but they're not generally aggressive, and they're rarely anything to worry about. Having said that, you may well prefer to steer clear of them.
Travelling in the Rush Hour
It's not exactly unsafe, but travelling in London's rush hour traffic can be a nightmare. Over-full buses, alarmingly packed station platforms and trains, huge traffic jams and not a taxi in sight. This phenomenon takes place Monday to Friday, approximately 08:00 to 09:30 and 16:30 to 18:30. Avoid it if you can.
Public Phone Boxes
Thank goodness for mobile phones as London's public phone boxes are usually horrible - full of rubbish, smelling of urine and plastered with fliers for 'escort services'. Not in any way dangerous, of course, but definitely unpleasant.
Having said that, they're good in an emergency - 999 (and 112) calls are free.